Close-up: Love it or loathe it, the royal wedding unites the nation

While Ofcom rules mean advertisers can't run spots during the ceremony, John Tylee finds out how brands have approached the nuptials.

When it comes to staging a royal wedding, nobody does pomp quite like the British. Whether or not the impending nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton provide enough of the right circumstance as far as advertisers are concerned is a more open question.

For one thing, they'll be denied access to any of the projected 18.3 million TV viewers in the UK who will be watching the event. ITV's coverage will not be able to include ads - costing the broadcaster up to £8 million in lost revenue - thanks to the Ofcom code banning commercial breaks during a "formal royal ceremony".

For another, there's the rising tide of public cynicism about the royal family, which has grown significantly since the 1981 wedding of Charles and Diana was watched by a UK TV audience of 28.4 million.

Even the latest Morrisons ad featuring the cricketer Andrew Flintoff as a Pied Piper-style figure encouraging a group of children to help him prepare for the upcoming celebrations came on air as councils across the country admitted they've had only around 4,000 applications for street parties, compared with tens of thousands in 1981.

"You only have to watch a film like The Queen to realise how royal institutions have eroded," Dave Trott, one of the UK's most admired creatives, remarks. "They're more like reality shows."

BMW did advertise the fact that it was marking the event by introducing a "royal" edition of its M3 Coupe, complete with a commemorative "Will" emblem. Tellingly, the ad appeared on 1 April.

"The fact that we used the royal wedding for an April Fool joke indicates that we don't see it as an event we could exploit," Richard Hudson, BMW's UK marketing director, says.

T-Mobile, taking its cue from the craze of wedding couples dancing their way into church and posting the results on YouTube, has created its own spoof three-minute online version through Saatchi & Saatchi featuring royal family lookalikes.

Richard Huntington, the agency's strategy director, says: "We're just taking the piss because T-Mobile's audience is young urban Brits who couldn't care less about the wedding."

Indeed, 70 per cent of those questioned in a national poll conducted by JWT said a company's association with the wedding would make no difference when it came to buying its products. Among Londoners, the figure was 100 per cent.

Nevertheless, there are brands that see advantages in hitching themselves to the bandwagon. Ancestry.co.uk, for instance, has begun a TV campaign encouraging viewers to visit its website to find out more about weddings in their own families.

Freeview has launched TV advertising aimed at boosting the number of people watching the wedding on its HD service. A commercial, created by 18 Feet & Rising, features an epic journey to London by three corgi dogs determined to be at Westminster Abbey.

At the same time, Green & Black's, the Kraft-owned chocolate brand, will be using digital escalator panels and six-sheet digital posters on the "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" theme to target people in Tube and rail stations along the wedding route. This will be followed by a national magazine burst.

Brave, the Green & Black's creative agency, has consistently used national events to establish a distinctive tone of voice for the brand. Ben Barton, the agency's account planning director, says: "If you do it right, the feel-good factor can rub off on your brand. But if you do it with no real thought, it looks crass and opportunistic."

Meanwhile, BT has been using the event to stoke up further interest in the long-running saga of Adam and Jane, whose fictional TV wedding will coincide with the royal one.

The lovers are the creation of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, whose joint head of planning Craig Mawdsley claims there's still something special about events like the royal wedding that can enable advertisers to tap into the nation's pulse.

"I'm not convinced they provide great business opportunities but they do give you the chance to produce good tactical work," he says.

Tom Knox, the joint chief executive of DLKW Lowe, which created the Morrisons spot, says its campaign aims to encompass not just the wedding but also the Easter Bank Holiday. "Times are tough for consumers," he adds. "They all need a bit of cheering up."

At Toshiba, the event will be unmarked. "We've not considered it - and that's not just because we're a Japanese company," Matt McDowell, the marketing director for Northern Europe, explains. "We operate in a hi-tech industry that's all about innovation, not tradition."

Of course, the wedding also opens up opportunities for advertisers targeting potentially huge alternative audiences that would rather have their fingernails extracted with pliers than be forced to read the acres of coverage that the Daily Mail and The Sun will devote to it.

Mhairi McEwan, the co-founder of the brand consultancy Brand Learning, is a former Unilever and PepsiCo senior marketer who has worked with clients including Diageo, Tesco and HP. She says: "For some, the wedding will be a cause for celebration. For others, it will be an excuse to fast-foot it abroad until the whole thing is over.

"Remember how much advertising we saw around last year's World Cup about the best ways to avoid it? A brand that has humour at its heart - be it beer, fashion or even bookmaking - could well leverage that."

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